Subject: Reform's a hard sell for Indonesia's army

The Straits Times (Singapore)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Reform's a hard sell for Indonesia's army

John McBeth, Senior Writer

LOST in the recriminations over the Commission of Truth and Friendship's (CTF) report on the bloody events surrounding Timor Leste's vote for independence is a singular recommendation to implement a major shift in the culture of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI).

In keeping with language in the 2002 Defence Law, the commission calls for the TNI to drop its time-honoured concept of total people's defence and replace it with a conventional reserve element that, when activated, will become part of the military's formal chain of command.

Enshrined in the previous 1982 Defence Law, and underpinned by the 1945 Constitution, the current doctrine allows for the creation and arming of the same military- backed militias that were responsible for much of the destruction and bloodshed in Timor Leste nine years ago.

A draft Defence Reserve Component Bill, drawn up in 2006 and still waiting to be tabled in Parliament, envisages the creation of a volunteer reserve force with professional training, clear authority, rights and responsibilities.

The size of the force is not mentioned in the legislation, but it is believed the TNI plans to eventually recruit about 150,000 reservists, aged between 18 and 58, who would undergo about three months of training and serve for five years.

One vague provision allows for 'natural resources, manufacturing resources, national structures and infrastructure' to be utilised in support of the reserve, presumably at a time of national mobilisation.

The Bill stipulates that the costs of the reserve force should be borne by the national budget, with each provincial government providing a supporting allocation.

Retired general Agus Widjoyo, a reform-minded member of the CTF, sees the provision and other recommendations in the 356-page report as 'another milestone in the Indonesian transition, symbolising a shift from authoritarian values to open democratic values'.

But while the document contains what Gen Widjoyo calls 'substantial new packaging', the commission's non-prosecutorial mandate meant it was never going to satisfy anyone - least of all the relatives of the 1,500 people who died at the hands of the Indonesian-backed militiamen.

In fact, in issuing what amounted to an apology for what happened in its former territory - the first time it has acknowledged culpability - the Indonesian government now faces renewed pressure to follow up with prosecutions.

That won't happen, of course. As farcical and unconvincing as the process was, the administration can point to the ad hoc trials that led to the acquittal of all 20 officers and civilians accused of inciting the bloodshed.

Despite saying sorry, even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is understood to have been unhappy over some of the report's conclusions - in particular where it found that Indonesian soldiers were guilty of gross human rights abuses.

There is no question the Timorese bent over backwards. Even in the joint statement, they replaced 'apology', which appeared in the original Indonesian version, with the softer 'regret' that Dr Yudhoyono used.

Although the report didn't mention names, Indonesia will continue to be criticised for failing to successfully prosecute any one and for a culture of impunity that has ignored other abuses in Papua, Aceh and Jakarta over the years.

The Timor Leste events may have occurred after former president Suharto's downfall, but clearly not enough time had elapsed from the repressive New Order era for the military to have changed its culture to any appreciable degree.

The TNI says it should instead be judged on the strides it has made since then, separating itself from mainstream political life, dramatically improving its human rights record and progressively edging out of business enterprises.

But it still resists the concept of civilian supremacy, pointing by way of justification to the corruption and abuse of power that exist among politicians and the way they persist in trying to draw the military into their machinations.

'Civilians still try to spoil the TNI,' notes Gen Widjoyo, who also faults the media for asking senior officers provocative political questions. 'Defending the military is an instinctive thing among politicians. But there's no reason for putting it on a pedestal.'

Former armed forces chief General Wiranto has always refused to accept command responsibility for the 1999 rampage, arguing that he was carrying out a state mission - even if it was not sanctioned by the civilian leadership.

Gen Widjoyo calls it a 'grey area', with the TNI's 'dual function' doctrine as a military as well as a socio-political force allowing it to effectively trump the authority of then-president B.J. Habibie's civilian administration.

But if the doctrine is now a thing of the past, the same vacuum of authority was illustrated only two years ago when the navy chief of staff warned of war if Malaysia continued to lay claim to East Kalimantan's offshore Ambalat oil concession.

Reformers also want to see the police taken away from presidential control - it has replaced the military as a centralised institution - and placed under the authority of provincial governors and district chiefs.

'There is still an authoritarian mindset, based on the assumption that anything carried out as a state mission has to be protected,' says Gen Widjoyo. 'In that mindset there is always a sharp dividing line between who is the enemy and who are the friendly forces.

'There are those who remain in that mindset, but we are in a time of transition. That's why the commission is trying to move from old arrangements to the building of new arrangements.

'There has to be a new way to look at nationalism and patriotism.'


Joyo Indonesia News Service

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